THE BUDDHIST CANON, otherwise known as the Tipitaka, is the collection of the entire teachings of the Buddha. From out of this vast collection, inspirational verses which touch the essence of what the Buddha taught were compiled and recorded in a book called DHAMMAPĀDA. These verses, arranged under twenty-six chapters with such headings as The Wise, Mindfulness, and Happiness are part of the earliest extant records of words uttered by the Buddha himself.
There are 423 verses in the Dhammapāda and behind each one of them is a story which bears a lesson of great moral value whether they concern such human flaws as pride and greed or such virtues as compassion and generosity. It is primarily for this reason that for centuries throughout Southeast Asia, the Dhammapāda stories have been used by parents to instruct and entertain their children and have been recounted by monks to inspire and enlighten those who came to seek their guidance.
As to whether the stories are really based on historical fact or merely the products of vividly imaginative minds, discussion still goes on. But it is evident that the stories may not be entirely precise in detail nor free from exaggeration. One is nevertheless advised to keep an open mind in order to be able to appreciate the moral lessons the stories are trying to convey. In any case, even those who do doubt their authenticity would have to agree that the lessons they teach provide food for reflection which may consequently give a whole new direction to the way one thinks and lives. Moreover, because the Buddha always suited his teachings to the age, temperament, character and mental state of his listeners, one may just be able to identify with any of the characters that are depicted in the Dhammapāda stories and benefit from that identification.
In addition, the Dhammapāda stories are a valuable source of information regarding the personality of the Buddha himself. His temperament - the Buddha was always calm, patient and compassionate (no instance can be cited where the Buddha ever displayed any anger or spoke harshly) and his great humility - he accepted food even from lowly servants and slaves, sometimes food that had already been partially eaten and his wisdom and skill in teaching - he was able to uproot the deep-seated unwholesome attitudes of even his most abusive and stubborn accusers and bring them to accept Right View.
For our collection, we have selected thirty-two Dhammapāda stories that we felt were particularly interesting and meaningful and at the same time, representative of the different kinds of stories that the Dhammapāda contains, whether it be a humorous one as in the story of the fickle-minded monk who kept shuttling between the religious life and the home life so many times that his head was likened to a whetting stone - a poignant one as in the story of Gisa Kotami who, having lost her only son, went from house to house desperately seeking a remedy for his death or a macabre one as in the story of Angulimala who kept tab of the number of victims he had murdered by wearing a necklace of their fingers around his neck.
We have afforded ourselves the liberty to dispense with parts of some of the original stories that we considered rather long or dull and embellished others in an attempt to make them more palatable to the modern reader. This we have done, however, taking care to retain the original meaning of each story.
Those who would like to see the unedited versions of our stories can refer to The Dhammapāda, Verses and Stories, translated from Pali by Daw Mya Tin and published by the Myanmar Pitaka Association, Rangoon, 1986. This edition may not be readily available outside of Myanmar. A more accessible publication is The Dhammapāda by Ven. Sri Dhammananda which was published by the Sasana Abhiwurdhi Wardhana Society, Malaysia, 1992, and which, with few exceptions, reproduces the texts of the stories in the Myanmar edition almost verbatim. We have relied on these two publications as our main sources of reference in compiling this page.
In the introduction to his book, Ven. Sri Dhammananda makes the following remark about the Dhammapāda… “It is impossible to estimate how many human beings have refrained from telling a lie, killing an insect, spreading a rumor or taking what is not given, by calling to mind a story from the Dhammapāda at the right moment. If the world has experienced moments of compassion and wisdom in the face of greed, hatred and delusion, the Dhammapāda must be given its due share of credit for it."
No doubt the Dhammapāda will continue to be a source of inspiration and edification to all who seek spiritual upliftment within its pages.
WE WOULD LIKE TO ACKNOWLEDGE our appreciation to the following bhikkhunis. Rev. Jen Du, Rev. Shing Ing, Rev. Jian Jih and Rev. Shiou Ding as well as to Ms Hsu Mei Jr and Mr. Hsu Te Wei for their assistance in the translation of the English texts into Chinese, to Ms Aye Sabai Win for proofreading the English manuscript and making constructive suggestions and especially to Rev. Dau Soon for enriching our stories.
Here is the full collection of Dhammapada Stories.